Skip to main content

Reporters Dig Into Justice Kavanaugh's Past, Allegations Of Misconduct Against Him

Several Democratic presidential candidates are calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after The New York Times published an essay Sept. 14 describing alleged sexual misconduct that occurred during his college years at Yale.



Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Several Democratic presidential candidates called for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after the New York Times published an essay Saturday adapted from the new book "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh" by my two guests Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. They covered the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, in which Christine Blasey Ford alleged that he'd sexually assaulted and choked her at a house party when she was 15 and he was 17. Note to parents - we'll be discussing these sexually related allegations.

The FBI conducted an investigation into Kavanaugh's behavior, but it was restricted in terms of time and scope. The FBI never spoke with Blasey Ford, although they did speak with Deborah Ramirez, who alleged that he put his penis in her face at a party. After Kavanaugh's confirmation polarized the country, Pogrebin and Kelly decided to continue the investigation into allegations against him. That included speaking with Blasey Ford, Ramirez, people who knew them and people who knew Kavanaugh when they were young. Pogrebin and Kelly learned that the FBI found Ramirez's allegations credible. They also spoke to a man who alleges he witnessed another incident of inappropriate sexual behavior.

Pogrebin and Kelly's backgrounds intersect with Kavanaugh's. Pogrebin was in his class at Yale and lived just a few doors away from him in the Yale dorm. Kelly grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and attended a girls high school in the network of his high school Georgetown Prep. On a related note, the New York Times revealed on Friday that the Justice Department is going to present one of its most prestigious awards to the lawyers who worked to support Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.

Robin Pogrebin, Kate Kelly, welcome to FRESH AIR. Since Blasey Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh revolve around him being very drunk when he sexually assaulted her, what were you able to learn about Kavanaugh's drinking in high school and college that you didn't learn from the hearings - stories that didn't come out in public?

KATE KELLY: The drinking was something of a through line to the efforts we undertook for this book and the Kavanaugh story sort of writ large. There was heavy drinking and partying at Georgetown Prep in the 1980s. I know that it still went on into the early 1990s in the sort of circle of independent schools from which I came. There was heavy drinking during the college years that Kavanaugh spent at Yale, and Robin is a firsthand witness to that.

And it seems as though the heavy drinking done not just by Kavanaugh but by many of his close friends at these weekend parties as well as in smaller gatherings - during Redskins games, after their own football games, on sort of back to school parties, on graduation parties, at beach week and so on - it seems that at these alcohol-fuelled events, at least in Brett Kavanaugh's case, his behavior would change. Generally speaking, he was regarded as a pretty polite, responsible, well-mannered young person. But when he was heavily drinking - and also at times when he was simply trying to impress his friends, like in the schoolyard - a different side of him came out, and he could be sort of cruel and mock people, whether it be other boys in their school who were smaller or not athletes or for whatever reason were picked on or even for women.

And for example, there was a young woman named Renata who went to a neighboring girls school to Georgetown Prep, and there was sort of a ditty that Kavanaugh and his friends would chant about how Renata was easy, if you will. And if you needed a date it was late, you should call - Renate was how they pronounced it, although it's Renata. And there was a dirtier version of it, too, that involved a reference to a sex act. So Renata was someone they actually really liked and socialized with, and some of them kept in touch with her up to current times, but at the same time, there was this other side to the discussion that was really misogynistic.

GROSS: Well, another thing that you learned that we kind of know a little bit about was that he was prone to throwing up when he was drunk.


GROSS: And, I mean, tell us about his dorm room and what people said about that - or dorm bathroom, to be more precise.

POGREBIN: Yes. I mean, at Yale, I think there was this kind of - I mean, I even have this clear in my memory of sort of rolling kegs into the entryways of dorms. There was just a real kind of casual looking the other way about drinking that went on among undergraduates, and his dorm room was known for kind of getting disgusting, frankly, in terms of the bathroom, where it was - it always reeked of vomit. There was sometimes residue. It was the kind of place where visitors to that suite area kind of wanted to avoid that bathroom because it was known for that. And I interviewed one of Kavanaugh's freshman year roommates who really kind of talked about how he can't even count the number of times that Brett sort of stumbled in drunk. So I think that this was kind of a big group of guys, rowdy - where they were just - that was kind of a social lubricant and quite routine for them to sometimes take it too far in terms of alcohol.

GROSS: So you write about why Christine Blasey Ford decided to come forward and allege that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her at a party when he was really drunk. Are there new things you learned about why she decided to come forward?

KELLY: I really think she was motivated by a sense of civic duty. Her comment to me was to the effect that someone did something to me when I was my kid's age - she's a mother of two adolescent or teenage boys at this point - and I thought the key decision-makers who were influencing the Supreme Court nomination and confirmation should know about it. And to not say anything would not be an OK thing to do in my book. That - that's a summation of what she said.

I think that coming forward occurred at great personal stress and, eventually, cost to her and her family. She lost her privacy. She lost her security for a period of time. She still receives death threats and, as recently as earlier this year, was having to stay in undisclosed locations because of death threats. So it was very difficult. I don't think she knew the half of what might happen when she was contemplating this.

But at a very minimum, she knew that her name would be in the public domain, and she was likely to be the subject of debate. And that alone was very stressful for her. So I think it was a sense of civic duty. And I think although she is a Democrat and probably doesn't share most of Brett Kavanaugh's ideology, it really had to do with this sense of ethics and and civic obligation.

GROSS: As you describe it, one of the reasons why Christine Blasey Ford never told her parents about the sexual assault, the alleged sexual assault, is that she didn't consider it to be a rape. I want you to elaborate on that.

KELLY: Let me quibble with that question. I don't think she didn't tell them because she didn't consider it rape. God forbid, if it had been a rape, I am still not sure that she would have told them, given my understanding of her. I think she didn't tell them because she decided to pretend that the whole thing had never happened and to bottle it away. And in her own mind, I think there was a judgment that it was not a rape. Therefore, it was easier to sweep away. But it still was a very traumatic sexual assault in her mind.

So why not tell her parents? I think she grew up in a very traditional household. She had an earlier curfew than most of her friends. She also was on the young side. She has a November birthday, so she was younger than many of the people in her class. And therefore, when this incident allegedly happened, she was only 15 and couldn't drive herself.

So she has an early curfew. She's reliant on other people for rides. Her parents don't approve of drinking and partying with boys. And here's a situation where she's been at an unchaperoned party, had a beer, been around other beers and drunken kids and rowdy boys and has actually been the target of an alleged sexual assault.

So even though today we would probably look at that scenario and say the safety and security and health needs of that young woman would trump those other things to any parent - we have a sort of sense today that we need to protect our kids and help them work through situations, and whether or not they were out past curfew or they were drinking is not relevant - I think it was a different time, and it wasn't clear to her that it would be safe to share all of that without her parents being disappointed in her or angry because of the drinking and the unchaperoned party.

I think also, to her and to many of us at that age, the social currency is all about freedom, being able to go out with your friends, being able to push the envelope and stay out until the minute before curfew, perhaps being around alcohol and people that we're attracted to without parents around. So she hadn't fully processed the event, and she didn't want to lose what privileges she did have. So I think that was all a part of it.

POGREBIN: I want to add, Terry, that as you well know, you know, many victims of sexual assault or even sort of more minor incidents blame themselves. And there's a real kind of pattern of shame. And I think that Blasey Ford was no exception to that.

GROSS: Blasey Ford's parents had connections to Brett Kavanaugh's parents. What were those connections, and how did they affect Blasey Ford's decision not to tell her parents until basically the time of the Kavanaugh hearings about the alleged sexual assault?

KELLY: So there are a few crosscurrents between the families. Maybe the most notable one just socially is that Christine Blasey Ford's father is a member of and at one point was the president of the Burning Tree golf club in their part of Montgomery County, Md., where Ed Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh's father, is also a member. So presumably they see each other at the club from time to time. I know that in golf circles in the greater Washington area, Christine Blasey Ford's father from time to time golfs with Georgetown Prep alums and their family members. So there's a circle of commonality there. And I think they just know each other sort of socially and broadly through Montgomery County.

There also was a case a number of years ago in which the Blasey family, Christine's parents, were in a home foreclosure process with their bank lender, their mortgage lender. And Martha Kavanaugh, Brett Kavanaugh's mother, was the judge in that case. Now, put simply, the case was resolved with the lender. And the judge, Martha Kavanaugh, signed off on that agreement and allowed the foreclosure proceedings to be closed and to go away. So if anything, that judicial ruling was favorable to the Blaseys, although it sounds like the arrangement was something of a fait accompli by the time it got to her.

But I think generally the reason why Blasey didn't want to share this with her parents is, No. 1, not to hurt them, not to generate feelings of guilt over not protecting her better because of course these things happen, and there's often nothing parents can do. And she didn't want to impose that sort of burden on them. But I think also she just knew generally that it would be awkward for them in their community.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more about the Brett Kavanaugh story. If you're just joining us, my guests are Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. They're New York Times reporters who covered the Kavanaugh hearings and now have written a new book called "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. They covered the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. And now they've written a new book called "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation." Blasey Ford's story the way she tells it is that she remembers going to the party with her friend Leland Ingham and that Ingham drove her home. Ingham initially said that she didn't remember this incident, but she didn't challenge Blasey Ford's version of the story. But later, Ingham changed her story and became very skeptical that what Blasey Ford was saying was true. Do you understand why she changed her mind?

KELLY: I can tell you what she told me...

GROSS: Please, yeah.

KELLY: ...Which is that she didn't remember this incident and still doesn't - is the bottom line. But in terms of whether she found it believable, she initially said, Christine is my friend, and I believe her. And then within a couple of weeks, she had rested, reflected. She had looked through old photographs, some of the photographs that had surfaced through the media of Kavanaugh back in high school. She had really studied her memory and these images. And she thought to herself, I've never seen this man before in my life. And I never went to a party with him.

And she also had a number of circumstantial reasons why she thought that Christine's account was improbable, including the fact that Keyser, while a member of the Columbia club, had been spending most of her time at a different area country club that summer. So they were things that, while not irrelevant, upon further reporting, really were not sort of solid reasons to shoot down Ford's account because there were other aspects of it that did ring true. And the things that Keyser was thinking of did not contradict the story. It's certainly possible that she met up with Blasey on a given day and picked her up at the Columbia club and then went to a party and so on.

GROSS: You question whether her memory was affected by alcohol and drugs.

KELLY: I wanted to just raise that prospect. Memory and its limitations has been a throughline to this book for all parties. And while I don't know exactly what is in Leland Keyser's head, she does acknowledge that she's had issues with alcohol and substances over the years. I asked her whether she thought her memory had been affected by these. And she said she thinks not. She was something of a straight arrow back in these high school years, so she doesn't believe her memory was impeded at the time by alcohol. And she also thinks that her memory as of 2018 - during the fall of last year - was unimpeded by substances.

GROSS: The two other boys who Blasey Ford says she remembers being at the party where she was allegedly sexually assaulted - Patrick Smyth and Mark Judge - and Patrick Smyth is also known as PJ when Brett Kavanaugh talks about him. And Mark Judge is the guy who Blasey Ford says jumped on top of Kavanaugh when Kavanaugh was on top of her and knocked Kavanaugh to the floor. So you were - were you able to talk to each of them - to Smyth and to Judge?

KELLY: I did not talk to Smyth. I messaged him and called him numerous times. I did get a sense of what he was telling friends last fall, as well as a sense of what he told the FBI based on other interviews I did with people who know him. And the substance of it was that he, too, does not remember. But he also thinks that there is nothing there. He doesn't think it sounds like a credible story. Judge I did talk to briefly. It was hard to find him. He's somewhat itinerant, as far as I can tell, and stays with family and friends. But I did track down where he was staying at one point, and we had a short conversation. And the upshot of what he has had to say is that he simply doesn't remember, as well. So not a lot of progress from those interviews.

GROSS: I see what you mean when you say memory is a through story throughout this case.

KELLY: It is. And it's an interesting prism through which to gauge these accounts, as well as Kavanaugh's denial. We had a challenge in assessing Kavanaugh's straightforwardness at the hearings because after all, we're not inside of his head. We don't know what, if anything, he does remember and if he's giving us the full picture of what's in his head. But without knowing that, it's very hard to say that he lied. He may be inaccurate about things because we have other eyewitnesses who remember it differently who are credible. He may be telling a - sort of a shaded truth that's not a straightforward lie. But memory is tricky to discern if it's not your own.

GROSS: But there are things he said when he was being questioned that really seemed inaccurate - simple things like saying that boofing, which is a sex act, was actually about flatulence or that the devil's triangle, which is a word for a type of threesome, was really a drinking game. And people kind of know that's not true. But that's what he was saying. So I wonder how you weigh that in terms of trying to assess his honesty and clarity.

KELLY: I sort of have a different take on those particular examples. I think that if you've ever had an inside joke on a yearbook page or anywhere, you know that you may rip it from a dictionary or from popular culture because it has a salacious meaning. But to you and your friends, it has a different meaning. So sure, devil's triangle has a sexual reference to it. But they turn it into a drinking game. So it could be literally true that there is a devil's triangle drinking game but that the term clearly comes from another context.

To me, the untruths were more obvious with things like the Renate situation, the fact that there had been this disparaging song sung about a young woman who was in Kavanaugh's social circle in high school. And it was also mentioned in his yearbook on his page, and on others' pages. And he said, she's a dear friend. And that reference was meant to show that she was one of us. I think, actually, they did care about her and did consider her part of their group. But at the same time, they were disparaging her. So that to me is a more clear-cut case of a very lawyerly, if not dishonest, answer.

GROSS: And she said she felt disparaged by that.


GROSS: My guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, authors of the new book "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh." After a break, we'll talk about the Deborah Ramirez allegation and a new allegation they report in the book. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, authors of the new book "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh." They covered the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. After the hearings, the related FBI investigation and Kavanaugh's confirmation polarized the country. Pogrebin and Kelly continued to investigate allegations against him. They report what they found in their new book. Note to parents - we'll be discussing these sexually related allegations.

Let's talk about the Deborah Ramirez story. She's a woman who came forward and had her own allegations about Brett Kavanaugh. Would you describe her allegations?

POGREBIN: Yes. Her allegations were that, at a party freshman year in the freshman dorm on Old Campus - which is the quad where most freshmen live - she recalls being part of a drinking game with a rather small group of mostly guys with drinks being passed around, presumably beer, where she was continually and repeatedly targeted to drink. Kind of - drink, drink, Debbie, drink - which she did to excess, and she had never had alcohol in any meaningful way before coming to Yale.

And that - at some point, there was a kind of a fake penis in her face. She swatted it away, and then subsequently, there was a real penis thrust in her face. And when she looked up, she saw Brett Kavanaugh pulling up his pants and laughing and all of his friends who were also in the drinking game laughing as well, which she found incredibly humiliating and an experience that stayed with her.

GROSS: She also told you she remembers somebody yelling, Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie's face.

POGREBIN: That's right - someone yelling down the hall.

GROSS: So Deborah Ramirez was never called to testify at the hearings. Why not?

POGREBIN: That was a real subject of interest for us - is that this was a story that kind of never got its due. It ended up being kind of lumped in with other allegations that were considerably less corroborated as kind of a piling-on of Kavanaugh. You also had the Republicans in charge of the process, and they clearly had no interest in adding yet another story and another potential victim to sort of the public dialogue and giving her the legitimacy of sort of a public forum. So although she was made available to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then her lawyers ultimately gave the FBI a list of more than two dozen potential witnesses who could add credence to her story, ultimately, the Judiciary Committee determined that her allegations were not relevant to the process.

GROSS: What do you think is the importance of her story to the larger Brett Kavanaugh story?

POGREBIN: I think it's a really important point I'm glad you asked, which is - you know, there are plenty of people who you talk to about the Ramirez allegations, and to the extent that they are aware of them, they kind of say, what's the big deal? And you can see from the outside how that perspective is conceivable. I mean, basically, someone exposing himself to her at a drunken dorm party - you could dismiss that as just so much kind of drunken, juvenile fun - boys being boys. If she were made of stronger stuff, maybe she would have just said, get that out of my face, and gone on with her life.

What's important, and what my reporting really revealed, was that it's essential to look at the background of a person like Deborah Ramirez and, indeed, anyone who comes into a place like Yale. That has made me sort of newly sensitive to this idea that not everyone comes into college equally equipped to navigate situations like that. She was raised in working-class Shelton, Conn. Her father was a cable splicer. She was, you know, very kind of - strict kind of Catholic upbringing, did things by the book, academically distinguished, not at all experienced sexually or in terms of alcohol and also somewhat at a disadvantage financially. Her family had to scrape together money for her to get through Yale. In addition to getting loans, she worked in the college dining halls.

So that is sort of the background she comes to Yale with. And she also has Puerto Rican heritage, and as we know now, there is a lot more sensitivity to the experience of people of color, but at the time, there were jokes on campus that she experienced of people saying, you know, how'd you get in here? Is it because you're Puerto Rican? Even something as callous as, like, hide the knives when she came into the room - and also, frankly, making fun of her clothes, her kind of knockoff Air Jordan sneakers, the fact that she had joined the cheerleading squad. So she already felt behind the eight ball at Yale, had a real deep sense of inadequacy that maybe she didn't belong there and wasn't going to be able to hack it. So this experience with Kavanaugh only confirmed those insecurities in a way that was formative.

GROSS: She said that she had never touched a penis before. This was, like, the first time, and it was unwillingly. And she had expected the first time this happened it would be with her husband. And this is one of the reasons why she found the whole incident just so upsetting.

POGREBIN: Yeah. I mean, as I talked to her, it really struck me, Terry, that she could not recall these events and recount them of 35 years ago without weeping. And I've done enough of these #MeToo stories to see that even with a spectrum of experience - sometimes, it's kind of verbal harassment all the way towards more sort of sexual aggression - that these experiences stay with these women and continue to resonate no matter how buried, no matter whether they told people or not at the time. They don't go away. And that is clear with this experience; that for her, the humiliation of it was almost as bad as just kind of the sexual experience itself, that just having people laugh at her is really what actually stands out in her mind the most, which is interesting because it dovetails so much with what Blasey Ford said about kind of remembering the laughter in the room when she was allegedly attacked.

GROSS: Do you see Ramirez's story as lending more credibility to Blasey Ford's story?

POGREBIN: I see it as lending credibility in this picture of, you know, now how we started - have come to understand this young man, which is that he grew up in this milieu that was largely male. He went to an all-male high school. It was kind of - he was very much associated with athletes. There was a currency that was kind of jocular and disparaging of women in a casual way, you know, perhaps only verbal way - sort of ironically that Brett Kavanaugh was not, like, a ladies man. He kind of didn't really have the moves. He didn't get the girls. And that's kind of why he seems to have relied on alcohol conceivably to kind of make himself feel a little more socially relaxed because, you know, he wasn't necessarily that adept. And so there's kind of this ham-handed quality of let's say, you know, pawing at Christine Blasey Ford's bathing suit or, you know, thrusting his penis into Deborah Ramirez's face that is sort of all of a piece with a certain kind of juvenile behavior.

That said, you know, we did find, after considerable digging, that in the 36 years since these allegations, he basically grew up. He, you know, in our view became a better man either because he sort of consciously sought to reform these ways or he just simply matured into a person who actually ended up promoting women - in terms of his own practice, hiring female clerks to a notable degree and promoting women in the profession and being a family man and having daughters of his own whose basketball team he coaches and actually being an individual who people speak highly of in terms of character and professional just behavior on both sides of the aisle.

GROSS: Are there other women who have come forward since the Kavanaugh hearings?

POGREBIN: You know, basically, we have this one other allegation that has never been reported. It surfaced at the time, where there was another incident at a Yale party - it was a different party, but it was also freshman year - where everybody was drunk. Kavanaugh was with his friends in a group. His pants were down. And his friends brought him over to a woman named Tracy Harmon. Her married name is Joyce, so she's now Tracy Harmon Joyce - and that a classmate named Max Stier, who now, well, kind of works in a nonprofit, good-government organization in Washington, remembers seeing Kavanaugh's friends put his penis in Tracy's hand. Max Stier brought that story to members of the Senate at the time. He also made the FBI aware of it and neither pursued it. Certainly, the FBI didn't in any meaningful way. And Max Stier has, as a result, decided not to speak publicly about it, kind of feeling that he did his part in trying to make the appropriate authorities aware of what he observed at the time. And they didn't pursue it, so he had no interest in resurfacing those allegations. But they came up in our reporting from a number of different directions. And they clearly do add sort of yet another layer to that kind of college experience that the Ramirez story describes.

GROSS: My guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, who covered the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Their new book is called "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh." Our interview was recorded last Thursday. Over the weekend, the Times published an article Pogrebin and Kelly adapted from their book that led to calls for Kavanaugh's impeachment. The article included the new allegation we were just talking about based on a statements by Kavanaugh's classmate Max Stier. The New York Times later added an editor's note that the female student, the alleged victim of the incident, declined to be interviewed. And friends say she doesn't recall the incident. That information was included in the book but not in the original Times article or in our interview. We'll hear more of our interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. They covered the Brett Kavanaugh hearings for The New York Times, where they're both reporters. And now they have a new book called "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation."

Another thing you write about is the agreement that Senators Chris Coons and Jeff Flake, a Democrat and a Republican, reached to ask for an FBI investigation. And Jeff Flake agreed to do it if it was just for, like, a week - a week or 10 days. I forget which. A week?

KELLY: It was a week, and there was a rationalization there that the Anita Hill investigation had been done in four days.

GROSS: Right. So they came forward with this idea, and when it was accepted by the Judiciary Committee, Coons assumed that they - this would be done by the book. And then Coons realized there wasn't a book. There wasn't a set of guidelines. There weren't precedents for this. Can you explain what happened with that - like, how he realized that there wasn't going to be a set of guidelines and he had no control over how this was going to go?

KELLY: Sure. I mean, Senator Coons is an interesting character in this story in a way. I'd love to come back to him and this topic in some other way, but he is a Democrat who really values a sense of bipartisanship that is sort of all too scarce in Congress right now. And Jeff Flake, who's now retired but was also - was a Republican in the Senate at the time, who was known for a bit of a maverick streak and a bit of an independent sense, seemed to Coons like the most approachable about the idea of having an FBI investigation postponing, essentially, the confirmation vote on Brett Kavanaugh until more could be learned. So the two of them reached this agreement to do that. They convinced other moderate senators - Susan Collins from Maine and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska - to back them up, and then the Republicans went to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to talk about this. And it was agreed that this FBI investigation would be recommended and that the confirmation process would be delayed for a week.

I think Senator Coons expected to be sort of a voice in the mix from then on, and he was not. He worked with Flake, Murkowski and Collins to kind of spitball and sort of generate some ideas of witnesses who could be interviewed. And apparently, they had a list that was within the double digits long, but in the end, Flake came to believe that it was appropriate to just talk to people who had, ostensibly, primary knowledge of the alleged incidents - people like the high school friends Mark Judge and Patrick Smyth and then Blasey's old friend Leland Keyser but not people who might only have secondary information, which - some of the Yale sources Robin has talked about would probably fit that category. They may not have been in the room during the alleged Ramirez situation, but they might have heard about it later. Those people were not going to make the list.

And eventually, you had Chris Coons get very frustrated and reach White House counsel Don McGahn on a Sunday, when McGann was apparently taking one of his kids to Little League, and confront him and say, I thought this was going to be done by the book, Don. Where's the book? And Don McGahn apparently said to him, there is no book.

GROSS: Do you have any thoughts you can share on the credibility of Blasey Ford and Ramirez?

KELLY: I'll take the Ford question. We do find Ford credible because she is - first of all, has a history of honesty, and even her ex-boyfriend, who gave some testimony in an affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Republicans used to undermine her - for example, saying that he hadn't been aware she had a fear of flying, which was an issue that had nothing to do with the alleged Kavanaugh assault but ostensibly went to her credibility - even he said she's a very honest person. She can't lie. So people - and not just friends - would back up the fact that she has honesty and integrity as personal qualities, so that's for starters. But her description of Georgetown Prep and Holton-Arms and the social scene of that time has proved accurate.

Her connection to Kavanaugh's group of friends has really not been disputed. She dated one of his closest friends, a guy named Chris Garrett. She has specific memories of that. Her friend Leland Keyser, who was ostensibly the person at the party, dated Mark Judge, who was Kavanaugh's good friend and the person that Ford alleges was in the room when she was assaulted. So there are all these sort of interlocking connections. We also know that heavy drinking and unchaperoned teenage gatherings were something of a norm at the time. We also know that Ford passed a polygraph test questioning her Kavanaugh recollection specifically, so we find her credible. It's true that there is not contemporaneous corroboration, but...

GROSS: Unless you were able to see her records in therapy, where she says she's talked about it, but those are confidential.

KELLY: Well, contemporaneous meaning from 1982, when the incident is alleged to have occurred.

GROSS: Oh, I thought that's when...


GROSS: So she talked to a therapist much later about it?

KELLY: That's right. She talked to a therapist much later - within the last decade. She disclosed to her husband before they were married in the early aughts that she had been assaulted but didn't get into detail. In recent years - prior to Kavanaugh's nomination but within the last two, three years - she had told a small circle of friends that she had been assaulted in high school and sort of given them the contours of the situation and, in at least one case, identified Brett Kavanaugh to a friend. But it was not until many, many years later that she talked more openly about it.

POGREBIN: In terms of Ramirez, we found, as I said, seven corroborating stories of having heard from this. In at least a couple of the cases, you know, they were classmates who hadn't heard about it from Ramirez herself but from others. So Brett Kavanaugh had said during his hearings that if the Deborah Ramirez allegations had happened, it would have been the talk of campus. We found that, actually, it was the talk of campus. There's that. There's also the point that both Deborah Ramirez and Blasey Ford - you know, we haven't found motivations for them to lie and do this. It's kind of upended their lives, and in the case of Blasey Ford, at least, the repercussions continue to play out. You know, to raise your hand for this kind of experience - they're just - these are not, like, politically motivated women from what we've been able to find.

And the other aspect I would say is that, in talking to, let's say, Deborah Ramirez's attorneys, one of whom is very experienced in representing victims of sexual assault, that the kind of sporadic memories that these women have, where some details are crystal clear and others fuzzy - they remember, for example, circumstances of, you know, the bedroom where it happened or, you know, of the image of somebody laughing, but they don't remember how - let's say, in the case of Blasey Ford, she got to and from that party. That's actually consistent with victims of sexual assault and trauma - that it's the people who have this kind of cohesive story with every detail who are actually more suspect because that's how memory works when trauma is involved. It's - there are plenty of holes, and there were in both of these cases.

GROSS: Let's take a break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, authors of the new book "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us my guests are New York Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. They covered the Brett Kavanaugh hearings for The New York Times, where they're both reporters. And now they have a new book called "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation." You raise a question in the book that I'm going to pose to you. What if Brett Kavanaugh did what he was accused of, but his conduct has been good since then? How should those past actions be taken into account? I know you don't have, like, a pat answer for that, but I'm sure it's something you've reflected on a lot.

KELLY: We've talked about it a lot. And we feel like it's something that our readers should make up their minds on, hopefully armed with some of the facts and evidence that we raise in our book. There are a few ways to look at it, obviously. I mean, there is one school of thought that says if this type of behavior, which is to say sexual assault or sexually themed mistreatment of women, even just verbal sort of misogynistic commentary - if this is part of your character ever, it's part of your character as an adult and that a Supreme Court justice perhaps should be held to the very highest standard of conduct of any public officer in our country. So it's all relevant. Doesn't matter when it happened.

There's another school of thought that is - deals with our mentality in this country around young people and our juvenile justice system. And in all 50 states, it varies a little bit state to state. But there are protections for juveniles who commit crimes. And court proceedings, court documents, settlements - any sort of these legal processes that might surround a juvenile crime are kept confidential. And the reason is we want to give young people a chance to reform themselves and learn from their ways and not be haunted by the mistakes of their past. Now, this is obviously a theoretical. There was no police report here, let alone any set of charges. This is only an allegation. But just as a way of thinking about our culture and how we evaluate things that happen when a person is 17, 18 - at the very oldest, Kavanaugh might have been 19 when the Ramirez allegations were said to have occurred. So those are sort of two ways of thinking about it. And we feel like they're both compelling, as are many arguments in between.

GROSS: And I think another question here is, you know, you were talking about the juvenile justice system and how it's, you know - the justice system is different for people who are underage. But I think there's an understanding that this amount - an amount of, like, reflection and remorse that you're supposed to have for anything that you've done that was criminal. And when Brett Kavanaugh was on the stand, I mean, he was advised, basically, by the Trump administration to fight hard. And a lot of people thought his behavior on the stand was really out of character. But there wasn't a lot of, like, reflection. Like, did this happen? Like, I don't remember it. It seems really out of character. Do you know what I mean? There was a sense of he was fighting back, but he wasn't, like, reflecting on, what did it mean that these women were coming forward?

POGREBIN: Yeah. I think that we felt and we really did explore, you know, what if he had taken - sort of had more of a nuanced response of, you know, yes I did some things I'm really not proud of and I feel badly about, particularly if I mistreated people in the process? And I think what we came to was that in the age of Trump, who is all about fighting back and kind of brooking no concessions, that it would have doomed his nomination, that there was no way for Brett Kavanaugh to kind of be a human, flawed individual there, sort of acknowledging the error of his ways and asking to be confirmed anyway, that he really had to take kind of a black-and-white stance of sort of unilateral denial on all of these matters and showing absolutely sort of no acknowledgement whatsoever about this past behavior or the possibility that he behaved in ways he isn't proud of.

KELLY: I think the outcomes here were very binary. I think either he was going to be named to the Supreme Court, or he was potentially going to lose the job that he did have, as well as his teaching jobs and his coaching responsibilities because, unfortunately, what we're seeing now in our culture is sort of the accumulation of a bunch of somewhat toxic crosscurrents - the fighting instinct that Robin has talked about, the advent of social media and the sort of abuse that all sorts of people get on social media, the idea that your behavior has to be up to a certain level at all times and that to be flawed is to be canceled. I think there was a whole accumulation of factors that made it difficult, if not impossible, for Kavanaugh to say something to the effect of, if I ever hurt someone, I'm terribly sorry.

GROSS: I want to thank you both very much for talking with us and for your reporting. Robin Pogrebin, Kate Kelly, thank you.

POGREBIN: Thank you.

KELLY: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly are New York Times reporters and authors of the new book "The Education Of Brett Kavanaugh." Our interview was recorded last Thursday. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, author of the new book "The Second Founding: How The Civil War And Reconstruction Remade The Constitution." We'll talk about the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which gave black men the right to vote, gave people equal protection under the law and granted citizenship to all people born in the U.S. But we'll also talk about how voting rights, equal protection and who gets to be a citizen are still highly contested issues in America. I hope you'll join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.


This Romanian film about immigration and vanishing jobs hits close to home

R.M.N. is based on an actual 2020 event in Ditrău, Romania, where 1,800 villagers voted to expel three Sri Lankans who worked at their local bakery.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue